It wouldn’t be the George Jones Museum without his riding lawn mower, and yep, there it is in all its green John Deere glory.
Alas, while it is Jones’ mower, it’s also a stand-in; the one he once famously rode eight miles to the liquor store because his brother-in-law had hidden his car keys got lost to history a long time ago.
But Jones’s widow, Nancy, 66, seems to have kept almost every other artifact and piece of memorabilia important to telling the story of the man many consider the greatest country singer of all time. On Friday, she put it on public view at the new museum, located less than a block off Lower Broadway in Nashville.
Several hundred friends, including many of his fellow performers, gathered on Thursday night for the grand opening of the four-story, 44,000-square-foot facility that also features a restaurant, gift shop, event space, and rooftop bar. Among the artists who came to honor the Possum were Dierks Bentley, John Rich, Naomi Judd, Tracy Lawrence, Ricky Skaggs and Lorrie Morgan.
The real star, though, was Nancy Jones. Long credited with restoring Jones to health after decades of drug and alcohol abuse, she has dedicated herself to keeping his memory alive since his 2013 death at age 81.
“I want everybody that knows and loves music to know about this guy and how much he loved it,” she said.
And while Jones’ offstage wasn’t always pretty – there were the boozy binges, brawling, mental breakdowns, multiple marriages and divorces, and a reputation for skipping concert dates that earned him the nickname, “No Show” – Nancy Jones has chosen to edit none of it out.
Mingled with the rows of awards, citations, and gold and platinum albums are relics and descriptions of Jones’s checkered past, including a corner dedicated to his failed marriage to fellow icon Tammy Wynette. Most chilling is the leather jacket that paramedics had to cut off the singer after his near-fatal one-car accident in 1999; that episode led Jones to finally swear off drinking for good.
Other artifacts show the many facets of the man: the home barbershop where Jones’ stylist maintained his perfect coif; the mink coat he promised his mother once he got rich; his bowling ball and shoes; the military trenchcoat he wore during his stint in the Marine Corps; his collections of guns, belt buckles, and autographed footballs.
Of course there are all the sights and sounds needed to attest to Jones’s six decades of making classic country music, including an astonishing array of stage wear: sparkling Nudie stage suits and cowboy boots in a rainbow of colors.
A generous space is also dedicated to honoring the 30-year marriage that turned into the centerpiece of Jones’ life. Among the keepsakes Nancy Jones chose to put on display are the couple’s matching diamond-studded wedding bands. Yes it was a hard thing to do, she says, but “like George told me when he knew he was going to heaven, he said, ‘I wrote a book and you helped me write a book, and when I’m gone, I want you to turn a page.’ ”
No doubt it still has George Jones’s name written on it. “No one will ever fill his shoes,” Nancy Jones says. “I can promise you that. But what a man. God created a wonderful man there.”
The museum is open to the public. General admission is $20.